A mentally ill former Marine who was left with permanent brain damage after he was bludgeoned in Orleans Parish Prison last summer is the latest plaintiff to file suit against Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of 67-year-old Terry Smith claims that the long-troubled city jail failed to protect him from dangerous inmates.
The suit details many of the same problems outlined in the sprawling federal consent decree currently in place: rampant violence, few guards, poor mental health treatment and a systemic failure to separate violent inmates from those most vulnerable.
The lawsuit was filed on Smith’s behalf by the Advocacy Center, a nonprofit that works with the elderly and disabled, and civil rights attorney Stephen Haedicke.
Smith, a diagnosed schizophrenic who was also homeless, was picked up on a series of petty crimes before the brutal beating, which was first reported in April by WWL-TV.
He was booked with “obstructing a public way” during Mardi Gras in January 2012, the suit states. Smith was given no psychiatric evaluation or treatment, and was sent to live on the “psychiatric tier” on the 10th floor of the House of Detention. It was “a place known to be especially violent,” the suit reads. He was attacked and released with a broken face.
Smith was booked again days later on a charge of trespassing and possession of a glass pipe. That time, he was housed in the psychiatric tier in the Templeman V building, along with inmate Edwin Lee, referred to in the suit only as E.L.
Lee was a 20-year-old man with untreated mental health problems of his own and had on at least five documented occasions beaten other inmates and guards, including breaking a deputy’s jaw with a broken broomstick and knocking out a fellow inmate’s front teeth days before the attack on Smith, the suit alleges.
Lee has a number of battery charges pending in criminal district court. He has been found incompetent to stand trial in some, and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in others, according to court records.
On June 23, 2012, Smith was walking around the tier in the Templeman V building, asking for coffee, according to the suit. Lee punched him in the face, allegedly without provocation, and Smith fell. The suit alleges that no guard was monitoring the tier and Smith lay bleeding on the ground for an unknown period of time.
He was taken to the hospital, his brain bleeding, and put on a ventilator with little expectation that he would live. But Smith survived, and eventually ended up in the state-run Villa Feliciana Medical Complex, a taxpayer-funded nursing home facility in St. Gabriel.
“Terry Smith was a nonviolent offender with a criminal history consisting of arrests for actions associated with homelessness — trespassing and obstruction of a public way,” the suit says. “He should have been classified as a person with a disability likely to be victimized by other inmates and assigned housing accordingly. He should have been segregated from offenders with violence behaviors. He was not.”
Smith cannot talk or walk, suffers from seizures and will require 24-hour care for the rest of his life, according to the lawsuit, which also names Bonita Pittman — warden of Templeman V — and five guards as defendants.
The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on pending litigation.
The suit requests an unspecified amount of punitive damages, which lawyers say would go to paying for Smith’s long-term care.